It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

September 24, 2013

Fox Valley Fall Final 20 Miler - A Perfect "Warm up"

Shortly after we registered for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I began looking for races.....any races, that I could use as part of my long training runs.  With a few clicks of the mouse I found the Fox Valley Marathon.  They had a half marathon, full marathon, and wait for it.....a 20 mile run!
Jim & I hanging with the Foxes
They actually call it the "perfect dress rehearsal for your fall marathon".  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.  Looking at my schedule I noticed that gee my training schedule called for  exactly 20 miles that weekend.  I called Jim and begged  asked him if he would like to make the 8 hour drive to St Charles, Illinois for this race so I wouldn't have to do another lonely 20 mile run and he gladly obliged.

Leading up to this race I had done several long runs: 18 once, and 20 twice.  However, all of my runs center around my house.  I will stop by the house 2 to 3 times on a long run to refill water bottles, go to the restroom, and when it was super hot - change clothes.  While I was certainly still getting the miles in, I was getting little "mini breaks" by stopping by the house, so I was excited to get in 20 solid miles in a race format.  Plus bonus - supported run, medal and t-shirt!

Race weekend arrived and the forecast called for PERFECTION.  After months and months of running in the sweltering heat and humidity and long runs ending with temps in the 90s, race morning weather was supposed to be in the mid 40s at the start and mid 60s at the finish with no wind and beautiful sunny skies.  The forecast held true, and we had just about the most perfect weather you could ask for on race day.  While it did get a tad warm toward the end, you couldn't complain at all.  Sure, would it be great for mid 50s the entire race?....yes, but it was still beautiful!

Jim and I were up early and headed to the race.  I decided on capris and a t-shirt with arm warmers.  It was chilly at about 42 or 43 degrees in the morning.  We hadn't seen temps that low since late Spring.  I had brought a throw away long sleeve shirt, so I put that on.  I was perfectly comfortable and even though I had also brought some throw away gloves I didn't need them.  We got to the race early because we both wanted to get in some warm up miles (I was hoping to get in a total of 22 miles for the day).  But of course, with the several porta potty stops prior to the race I didn't have time to do much of a warm-up but I did manage to run 1 mile before the race started.
Sun coming up over the local businesses along the Fox River

Some Ducks and Flowers by the Fox River
The race is a decent size with about 3500 runners in all events - but it runs along a very narrow trail along the river, so to ease congestions they start about 100 runners every few seconds.  The race started at 7:00 am, but by the time I started it was already 7:20.  I wish I had known it would take so long and I might have went ahead and ran that extra mile...oh well.

The race/training run finally started and I felt terrific!  It was so nice and cool and it was just beautiful.  St Charles is a quaint little city full of charm.  It was easy to get caught up in everything and I found myself easily flying through my first mile at around an 11:30 pace.  While this isn't super fast or anything, all of my previous long runs I've averaged around a 13:20 to 13:30 pace.  I knew I was going to have to rein it in, or it was going to make for a long day later.  I hit mile 2, and again I was around an 11:30.  That's when I knew I had to slow down.  This wasn't a half marathon, this was 20 miles, if I didn't slow down now I'd be hurting at the end. 
One of the many bridges and views of the Fox River
I did slow down and managed to ease into about a 12:30 per mile pace.  Running just felt easy.  Before I knew it I was already at mile 10 and still feeling strong.  I kept wondering when it was going to start getting hard, but I knew it would come.  Other than the first few miles, almost the entire race is run along a well paved trail along the Fox River.  It really was gorgeous.  It was shaded almost the entire way.  There were beautiful homes along the river, you ran by a fabulous Japanese Garden, and you ran through another quaint little town named Batavia, IL which was once the windmill manufacturing capital of the world.  I thought the scenery was just beautiful.  Crowd support along the course was somewhat sparse, but when you did have spectators they were terrific.  I thought the volunteers were awesome and all the water stops were well stocked and supported.
Some of the windmill art in Batavia

My only issue with the race at all was that the course kind of weaved in and out multiple times and you were also with different sets of racers at different times.  While it was well marked and there were generally people there to guide you, I found myself constantly second guessing and wondering if I was on the right route.  They had colored arrows that matched your bib color along the course as well - blue for the marathon, orange for the 20, and green for the half.  At one point I looked down and only saw one blue arrow...crap had I done something wrong?  This was at about mile 7.5.  I saw marathoners coming, but no one had an orange bib (keep in mind there were only 330 twenty milers compared to 1500 or so marathoners).  I asked someone if I had missed the turn and he said Yes, he thought I had...crap.  I started running backwards when I saw a few more orange bibs heading my way.  I asked, "are we going the right way" and pointed at the blue arrow, but they said we were on the right path so I kept going.  Thank goodness!
More beauty along the trail
There were a couple more times that I just didn't have a 100% confidence I was going the right way, but I never got lost.  In order to get in the different distances, I know they had to do some of the weird route changes, but it was easy to get confused.  However, other than one location, anytime there was a route split they had volunteers there to point the way.  It was really just me worrying about it more than anything. 
Another beautiful River view
Anyway, I continued running and still felt great.  I was averaging around a 12:30 or so pace, when finally around mile 16, I started feeling like I was losing a little steam.  I slowed down my pace for a couple of miles.  Miles 16 and 17 were my two slowest of the race with paces in the 13s (my normal for a run of this distance).  But when I reached 18, I was feeling refreshed and picked up the pace again with those last 3 miles in the 12s and actually mile 20 was a 12:02 pace - my 5th fastest mile of the race.

I rounded the final corner and could hear the crowds cheering.  Just as I was making the turn to the final stretch, a man on the sidelines just started screaming "Go Michael, Go Michael"!  It was pretty cool.  I don't know if he was doing that for everyone (probably) but for just a second I felt special and it gave me that final push to the end.

Japanese Garden along the trail
I crossed the finish line in 4:08:09 a 12:24 pace.  I had put in 21 miles for the day, and my pace was over a minute per mile faster than my last 20 mile run.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't tired at the end, I was.  I couldn't have kept that pace for 5 more miles, but I sure could have finished 5 more miles that day.  This race was a HUGE confidence builder.  After the race I felt ready for Chicago, really ready.

I know I ran this a little too fast....I mean while it was a "race" it was meant to be a training run.  The weather was cooler and it was also much, much flatter than the runs I usually do.  I'm a little more sore afterwards than I'd like to be, but it was such a perfect day it was hard to slow down the pace when it just felt so good.  I just hope I didn't do anything stupid that would impact my "real' race day here in a few weeks. 

After I crossed the finish line I found Jim and found out that he had won the Masters Division of the 20 miler!  It had been a GREAT day for both of us!  
Jim & I post race

After the race we showered, ate some lunch and headed home for the long, miserable car ride.  I have to say it was truly the worst ride ever.  After such a wonderful day it really put a damper on things.  Nothing is worse than running 21 miles, and then hopping in a car for 8+ hours.  We had been up since around 4 am...and got home around midnight.  It was rough.  When we finally crawled in bed, I could hardly straighten my legs out they were so tight.  We had stopped to stretch often on the way home, but it was still far from ideal recovery.

Oh well, we had fun and it was totally worth it!

Have you ever done a 20 Mile Run Before?  Or done a race as a training run, that you maybe ran a little too fast?  Or jumped in the car for an 8 hour drive after a long run?


  1. Congrats on a great 20! You were hauling, and even got that second wind for the last few miles!

    I didn't know they don't start all the runners at once now. That you started at 7:20 explains why I saw some people there a lot later than I expected!

    The course IS nutso with all the turn backs for different distances and loops to get all the miles in. Spectating it is... confusing as well. Ha ha. I am happy you didn't get lost!

    I did my first 20 in 2010 as a paid training run. I really liked having the support. This race started doing it in 2011, I think? Or maybe 2010 as well? Either way, I think it's so great to have this option. And yay for the flat run and cool weather! I hope Chicago is cool for you!

    1. Thanks! Jim and I both said after the race we hope we didn't waste our perfect day on a "training" run...but to get two race days with conditions like that seems almost impossible. I'm hopeful for good weather..time will tell!

  2. After hearing about Jim's great race, I was glad to finally read yours. Great job, Michael, on your 20 miler!! I hope this gives you the confidence to go out and hit a home run at Chicago. I am so excited for you and Jim (and a bunch of running buddies that are doing Chicago, too).

    I have a 20 mile supported training run this Saturday that is put on by the organizers of the Grand Rapids Marathon. For some reason I am nervous. Probably because I know it's coming. I was talked into a 20 miler back in August when I had planned on only going 16. I then talked myself into running 19 miles 2 weeks ago when the rest of my running crew only did 16. Ugh, I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about the 20 for some reason. Oh, well. Last long run then taper time.

    I hope you have good weather in Chicago. I ran it in 2010 and it was in the upper 80's. :o(

    BTW: what brand of running capris do you wear? I run in shorts but realize it may be too cold on Oct 20 for shorts and better buy and do a few test runs in some capris.

    1. Don't be nervous! You will knock your 20 out of the park - especially if you've already done 19! It's awesome that it's supported like that! I'm jealous!

      The capris I wore on Sunday are Athleta that I bought during their summer clearance. They are super comfy and I love them. However, not on sale they are pretty expensive. Most of the time I run in my Champion brand though from Target. I love their stuff!

  3. I've never ran 20 miles, but several times I've had to get into the car and ride a long ride home after a half marathon, ugh

  4. 8 hour drive must have brutal!! Can't even imagine. Great job, to both of you, on the 20 miler. Thats awesome that race offered a 20 miler.

  5. What awesome photos!!! I like the shirt they gave you too. That is so cool that you found this run, the last or next to last run is the one I always dread the most running by myself this is a great way to prep!

  6. You're running so well at the moment. Congratulations - that must be such a confidence-booster heading into the marathon.

  7. Congrats on the 20 miler!! It is always nice that a race fits into a training plan!

  8. I did that 20 last year before Chicago, and my only complaint was the same as yours - way confusing at some points! But I was running with my sister who lives in St. Charles (she ran the full on Sunday) and she knows the area really well, so I had an advantage over you :)

    That guy was the most awesome spectator ever - he did that the entire time! And he is why you didn't hear me...I was on the other side of the street from him (had you looked to your right you'd have seen me acting like a loon) but I was screaming "Michael!!!!!" along with him :)

    What a great day you had! Here's hoping for some repeat weather come Chicago!

    1. I am so bummed I missed you!! Thanks for cheering me in though! I'm sure all the good vibes brought me home that day! It was such a great race. I'd highly recommend it to anyone thinking about Chicago who or who lived in the area! I would totally love having that trail in my backyard. It was so nice!

  9. Awesome!! Totally wish I could have been there. On my long runs it's just me, town traffic and the countdown on my Ipod with Carson Daley. Or however you spell his name :) Almost time!!

  10. Wow! You ran a great race! You are SO ready for Chicago! I've never run a race of that distance...very cool that it fit into your training plan. That's a brutal drive back though. I did that after running Toronto last year and I was so stiff by the time we got home I could barely get out of the car!

  11. Great job!! I've done a 20 miler down the coast from Kittery, Maine to Salisbury, MA (in March...brrrr). I'm also registered for Martha's Vineyard 20 miler in February (again, brrrr). We recently had a 6 hr drive home from Quebec City after a marathon, BUT we left the next day. Not sure if that counts?

  12. I have done a 20 mile run but not a 20 mile race. Great job. You had some beautiful pictures. I love bright green so I think that race shirt is the bomb!

  13. I can only imagine that car ride. I've done many bus rides like that. yuck!

    So glad your 20 was awesome! I'm still nervous for mine.